By Tom Regan
Following a No. 25 ranking in the season’s first USA Today/NWCA/AWN coaches’ poll, the Broncs were visited by No. 1 ranked Penn State, marking the first time a No. 1 ranked team in any sport has traveled to Rider’s campus.
The match against the Nittany Lions served as their toughest test so far this season. Penn State’s well-renowned wrestling program has won the NCAA tournament three seasons in a row, losing only three matches in that span. Coming into the match, Rider and Penn State had met three times, with Rider losing all three by scores of 48-0, 41-0, and 38-3.
Donald McNeil, a 197-pound junior, felt the team deserved their ranking and was excited for the opportunity to face Penn State.
“The team has been working really hard this year,” McNeil said. “Everyone has been very serious and each person really pushes each other in the wrestling room. I think everyone is realizing how much the hard work we have put in is paying off. A lot of the credit can go to the coaches who push us every day and work with us constantly one-on-one.”
With The Comcast Network in the building, the Broncs battled Penn State in front of the largest audience ever at a Rider sporting event.
Victories from junior Clint Morrison, who wrestled at 184-pounds, and sophomore Curt Delia at 149-pounds led the way for the Broncs. Morrison won his match 17-2 on a technical fall, while Delia brought his match to overtime before taking a 6-4 victory. The wins cushioned Rider’s expected loss to Penn State, but the bout still reached the unbalanced final score of 34-8.
Despite the loss, McNeil felt the team gained a lot of confidence.
“Saturday was a great opportunity for us to wrestle the best team in the country and showcase our talent in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Robert Deutsch, a 125-pound sophomore, 165-pound senior Ramon Santiago and McNeil — nationally ranked 11th, 13th and 28th respectively in their weight classes — all lost their matches to top-five wrestlers: Nico Magaludis, a 125-pound junior; David Taylor, a 165-pound graduate student; and Morgan McIntosh, a 197-pound sophomore.
After the impressive performance against powerhouse Penn State, Rider moved up in the rankings to No. 22. Deutsch improved to 10th at 125, Santiago moved up to 13th at 165 and Morrison, who was previously unranked, was selected 19th at 184.
Associate Head Coach John Hangey spoke highly of his team’s ability to fight against the No. 1 Penn State.
“They competed hard; they fought off some quality attacks from Penn State and represented Rider well,” he said.
Hangey believes that this team is capable of making a run at the EWL championship. This is Rider’s first season in the EWL, after leaving the CAA, with an upcoming in-conference match against Lock Haven (2-1) on Nov 22.
“Lock Haven is a good team, they have very good individuals,” he said. “If we show up and wrestle like we are capable of wrestling, things should go well.”
Even with the lopsided loss to Penn State, McNeil is predicting a strong season for the Broncs.
“Everyone on the team is excited for this season, we are really going to surprise some people,” he said. “Our line-up is tough all the way through.”